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FAA fines outsourced airline-maintenance facilities

Consumer Reports News: January 28, 2011 01:47 PM

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed two fines—one totaling $1,025,000 and another for $170,000—against outside airline maintenance contractors for alleged violations of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing program.

The larger fine has been levied against San Antonio Aerospace, a subsidiary of Singapore-based Singapore Technologies Aerospace, which services airlines worldwide. The company is charged with violating federal safety regulations by failing to conduct pre-employment drug tests and receive the results before hiring 90 employees to “perform safety-sensitive functions” between March 2007 and May 2008.

The company responded by stating it is “disappointed” with the FAA’s press release, noting: “ST Aerospace takes our safety obligations seriously and has in fact addressed the issues raised by the FAA way back in 2008.” ST Aerospace added that there are no allegations of current compliance issues.

In addition, the FAA proposed the $170,000 penalty against Pemco World Air Services for violations concerning alcohol and drug screening in 2008. The company, which is based in Alabama and has facilities in Florida and Ohio, states it services aircraft for air carriers such as Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways, and Southwest Airlines.

Interestingly, an ST Aerospace facility in Mobile, Ala. was the focus of a PBS Frontline documentary on airline maintenance outsourcing that aired last week. Consumers Union participated in Flying Cheaper, and an extensive Q&A detailing my views on outsourcing is featured on the Frontline site.

Consumers Union has addressed grave security problems at ST Aerospace as well. In our March 2007 investigation into airline maintenance outsourcing—An Accident Waiting to HappenConsumer Reports noted: “At SASCO/ST Aerospace, a maintenance contractor in Singapore that served Northwest, an employee suspected of having Al Qaeda connections was arrested along with 14 others in late 2001.”

Consumers Union also raised concerns about FAA oversight of outsourced maintenance through the DOT’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee. However, the committee could not reach consensus on this topic and it was not included in the final list of proposals presented to DOT Secretary Raymond LaHood last month. Ironically, one of the key issues that arose from these discussions is that some foreign-based repair shops servicing U.S. airlines do not require the drug and alcohol screening mandated by the FAA for facilities in the United States.

— William J. McGee

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